One day, out of the blue, British artist Neil Douglas sent me an email. I love it when artists do this. However, Neil really went the extra mile. As you’ll see below, he told me about his work, his life and his hopes for the future. His work is beautifully executed www.neildouglas.com and I wanted to share our correspondence here – with his consent - because Neil’s words below capture the essence of why I continue to promote artists and write about contemporary art. I think you’ll agree …
I hope you are well? I'm a realist painter based in the UK. I am a big admirer of your site and in particular the interviews. I am close friends with Nathan Walsh who told me to mention his name and say, “Hi!”
My work is represented by the Albemarle Gallery so I have shown in many group exhibitions with Nathan in the past. I have been very fortunate as a painter in having people like Nathan and Clive Head around to offer advice and support.
Clive has agreed to write the catalogue introduction to my first solo exhibition at the Albemarle which will be held next May. Would you mind if I emailed you some images of the work being produced for the show for your opinion?
I am working full-time in the studio to get the new works together. Some of the pieces will be very large, site-specific canvases to cover certain spaces within the gallery. I do find myself in an odd place in regards to doing the exhibition. The ideas and concepts behind my work stem from my environment. I come from a working-class background - although over here we tend to just call it being “piss poor” - and have lived in many large cities where artist’s studios tend to be located in the more rundown neighbourhoods.
As a result, my work focuses on trying to portray the beauty of those environments. I will often use materials from such places in my paintings, so some pieces will be painted directly onto reclaimed floorboards or tiles and the canvas pieces will have textures built up with plaster, clay, sand and powdered glass so that the surface has the feel of concrete.
I have some work at www.neildouglas.com which hopefully gives a better account than my descriptive skills. The 'odd place' lies in the contrast between the subject matter and then the final painting subsequently being shown in a high-end gallery. I have a great relationship with the Albemarle and the simple fact is that as an artist you need to sell work for a certain price to be able to keep painting. Still, it does feel slightly strange to show the work in a location so far removed from the concept of the painting. I've been looking further into the possibilities of producing paintings for public spaces which may be a way forward, of producing paintings actually within the landscape that inspired it. I would still be able to make a living exhibiting while also returning something to my environment.
I am very confident in what I do. I work bloody hard at what I do. Not only in the studio, but constantly travelling around to meet other artists and view artworks in person. The majority of any money coming in gets spent on travelling to forward my own development. If you feel you'd have the time, I'd like to send over some examples of the latest work with a brief description to ask for your opinion?
I think that your work is beautifully executed. I love the charcoal grays and black that really set off the colors in your works.
Looking at the paintings, I get a very strong sense of mood, space, aloneness and contemplation. I also see the beauty of dying and death rather than any sense of anything morbid. I think that if we see death as morbid, then that's what it's going to be for us.
Years ago, I wrote an essay called, "Life Is Not A Disney Film," in which I make the basic point that REAL life is far better than reel life. Reality is far better than fiction. When you're steeped in reality, you see the fragility and passing nature of life. You catch things … and I see in your work that you aren't only capturing things, you're catching them as well ... lovely things of life that most people ignore. Ignorance is the result of ignoring the truth.
Also, tragedy is the result of not seeing the special moments and things that help us to make sense of our lives ... in as much as making sense of life is even possible.
I don't talk about artistic technique much with artists because I'm not interested in deconstruction. We spend too much time deconstructing things only to learn that the secret ingredient that makes things work will always be elusive. The secret ingredient that makes things work is the process itself and the mixture of things. Construction is the answer, not deconstruction.
As for galleries, I think that galleries remain necessary for many artists, but not all. We need as many venues for contemporary art as we can possibly get. The gallery model will continue to change. Still, we live amid infinite universes full of endless possibilities. Galleries are simply an option and we should have many options from which to choose and determine what's right for artists.
That's it. Best wishes with the gallery and showing the new works.
Check out Neil Douglas at www.neildouglas.com.